Brennan's security clearance has nothing to do with his free speech

By now, we're all familiar with former CIA director John Brennan's unhinged tirades against President Trump.  But in that activity, he simply joins the chorus of Jimmy Kimmel, Maxine Waters, and others too numerous to mention.  Each of these loudly and continually announces one Trump sin or another, always without evidence.

Last week, President Trump revoked John Brennan's security clearance.  Brennan immediately declared that it was "part of a broader effort by Mr. Trump to suppress freedom of speech and punish critics."  Moments later, over a dozen former intelligence officials denounced the president's action as "suppressing free speech."  Somehow, the ability to see highly sensitive information is "speech."  That's curious.  I thought speech was something that came out of you, not something you took in.

Since the First Amendment is so critical to our freedom, it's necessary to revisit what it says.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

That's it.  Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech.  In short, you can say anything you want, short of inciting a riot or the famously misquoted "shouting 'Fire!' in a crowded theater."  That is, you cannot say things that would commonly be expected to cause physical harm to others.  You also cannot say things that are deliberately defamatory, since libel and slander cause harm to reputations.

Curiously, I didn't read anything there that has anything to do with access to information.  Hmmm...  A free press is necessary to our freedoms, since it can expose malfeasance in government that would potentially harm us.  That's why we have the Freedom of Information Act.  It allows citizens to pry out information that the swamp would rather conceal, much as Judicial Watch and the American Center for Law and Justice do.  But there are limits on what the public is allowed to know.

Certain information can be restricted if releasing it will cause harm greater than the value of the public's interest in knowing.  For example, doxxing the jury in Paul Manafort's trial would place the jury members at risk.  There is also a lot of properly restricted information in the national security arena.  One critical injury resulted when WikiLeaks dumped the code of the CIA's hacking tools on March 6.  We can disagree on how those tools were used, but it's clear that the disclosure resulted in hostile actors learning ways to protect their data from our spies.  A former CIA employee was charged for leaking that information.

How did that employee get the information in the first place?  He was granted a security clearance.  That allowed him to see information that must not be seen by the public.  He was allowed to see it in order to do his job.  He violated the terms of the privilege.

John Brennan was granted the highest-level security clearance because, as CIA director, he had to be privy to a vast array of highly sensitive information in order to do his job.  But it also imposed a serious gag on him.  Anything he learned must not be disclosed to anyone who was not entitled to learn it from him.  In short, his security clearance had nothing to do with free speech.  It had everything to do with restricting his ability to speak on sensitive matters.

In some cases, there is a governmental interest in keeping specific security clearances alive.  From time to time, former intel officers can be recalled to confer with sitting officers.  Their experience can be valuable.

Does Brennan's security clearance touch on speech at all?  There the answer must be a qualified "yes."  But it is not a direct restraint.  As long as Brennan uses his specialized and sensitive knowledge as background to frame public statements without revealing any sensitive information, he can use that material.  He can attend events where others with that knowledge speak together.  He can work for companies that need his expertise and access to guide the company's interaction with the government.  This is for the government's benefit.  But unless he is speaking to someone with an equivalent level of clearance who has a need to know, he has to keep his mouth shut.

It's pretty easy to see how a high-level security clearance would allow John Brennan to make money.  He can serve on the board of a defense contractor.  He can schmooze with friends in high places, gaining information that might make him a better pundit.  CNN MSNBC obviously thought so when it hired him.

President Trump's action came as a result of Brennan's indefensible behavior.  He has been vitriolic toward the president, making all sorts of unhinged accusations.  This sort of activity would result in a person being denied a new clearance, because access to sensitive information requires careful decorum in the person learning it.  As the White House put it, "[t]he President has a Constitutional responsibility to protect classified information and who has access to it."

John Brennan leaked operational information about a spy in the al-Qaeda operation.  Those acts alone should have resulted in the immediate revocation of his clearance.  This brings us to a key point.

Security clearances are issued for the benefit of the government.  They are completely discretionary, and the holder (Brennan) has no right to the privilege.  The moment the government finds you "not useful," your clearance can be pulled.  In Brennan's case, due to the very high level at which he had been cleared, his value in the private sector would be great.  But the moment the clearance disappeared, his financial prospects diminished.  It's not hard to see a motive for Brennan's fury.  As for the others who joined that chorus, we should invoke Sutton's Law: Follow the Money.  How many of them would lose cushy financial situations if they lost their clearances?

No, Martha, security clearances have nothing directly to do with free speech.  But when they are held outside a government job, they are a tool for fattening wallets.

John Brennan has not lost one syllable of his free speech by losing his security clearance.  What he has lost is an inside track with those in the know.  He has also lost a  nice retirement income.  How deserving.

Caricature by Donkey Hotey.

By now, we're all familiar with former CIA director John Brennan's unhinged tirades against President Trump.  But in that activity, he simply joins the chorus of Jimmy Kimmel, Maxine Waters, and others too numerous to mention.  Each of these loudly and continually announces one Trump sin or another, always without evidence.

Last week, President Trump revoked John Brennan's security clearance.  Brennan immediately declared that it was "part of a broader effort by Mr. Trump to suppress freedom of speech and punish critics."  Moments later, over a dozen former intelligence officials denounced the president's action as "suppressing free speech."  Somehow, the ability to see highly sensitive information is "speech."  That's curious.  I thought speech was something that came out of you, not something you took in.

Since the First Amendment is so critical to our freedom, it's necessary to revisit what it says.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

That's it.  Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech.  In short, you can say anything you want, short of inciting a riot or the famously misquoted "shouting 'Fire!' in a crowded theater."  That is, you cannot say things that would commonly be expected to cause physical harm to others.  You also cannot say things that are deliberately defamatory, since libel and slander cause harm to reputations.

Curiously, I didn't read anything there that has anything to do with access to information.  Hmmm...  A free press is necessary to our freedoms, since it can expose malfeasance in government that would potentially harm us.  That's why we have the Freedom of Information Act.  It allows citizens to pry out information that the swamp would rather conceal, much as Judicial Watch and the American Center for Law and Justice do.  But there are limits on what the public is allowed to know.

Certain information can be restricted if releasing it will cause harm greater than the value of the public's interest in knowing.  For example, doxxing the jury in Paul Manafort's trial would place the jury members at risk.  There is also a lot of properly restricted information in the national security arena.  One critical injury resulted when WikiLeaks dumped the code of the CIA's hacking tools on March 6.  We can disagree on how those tools were used, but it's clear that the disclosure resulted in hostile actors learning ways to protect their data from our spies.  A former CIA employee was charged for leaking that information.

How did that employee get the information in the first place?  He was granted a security clearance.  That allowed him to see information that must not be seen by the public.  He was allowed to see it in order to do his job.  He violated the terms of the privilege.

John Brennan was granted the highest-level security clearance because, as CIA director, he had to be privy to a vast array of highly sensitive information in order to do his job.  But it also imposed a serious gag on him.  Anything he learned must not be disclosed to anyone who was not entitled to learn it from him.  In short, his security clearance had nothing to do with free speech.  It had everything to do with restricting his ability to speak on sensitive matters.

In some cases, there is a governmental interest in keeping specific security clearances alive.  From time to time, former intel officers can be recalled to confer with sitting officers.  Their experience can be valuable.

Does Brennan's security clearance touch on speech at all?  There the answer must be a qualified "yes."  But it is not a direct restraint.  As long as Brennan uses his specialized and sensitive knowledge as background to frame public statements without revealing any sensitive information, he can use that material.  He can attend events where others with that knowledge speak together.  He can work for companies that need his expertise and access to guide the company's interaction with the government.  This is for the government's benefit.  But unless he is speaking to someone with an equivalent level of clearance who has a need to know, he has to keep his mouth shut.

It's pretty easy to see how a high-level security clearance would allow John Brennan to make money.  He can serve on the board of a defense contractor.  He can schmooze with friends in high places, gaining information that might make him a better pundit.  CNN MSNBC obviously thought so when it hired him.

President Trump's action came as a result of Brennan's indefensible behavior.  He has been vitriolic toward the president, making all sorts of unhinged accusations.  This sort of activity would result in a person being denied a new clearance, because access to sensitive information requires careful decorum in the person learning it.  As the White House put it, "[t]he President has a Constitutional responsibility to protect classified information and who has access to it."

John Brennan leaked operational information about a spy in the al-Qaeda operation.  Those acts alone should have resulted in the immediate revocation of his clearance.  This brings us to a key point.

Security clearances are issued for the benefit of the government.  They are completely discretionary, and the holder (Brennan) has no right to the privilege.  The moment the government finds you "not useful," your clearance can be pulled.  In Brennan's case, due to the very high level at which he had been cleared, his value in the private sector would be great.  But the moment the clearance disappeared, his financial prospects diminished.  It's not hard to see a motive for Brennan's fury.  As for the others who joined that chorus, we should invoke Sutton's Law: Follow the Money.  How many of them would lose cushy financial situations if they lost their clearances?

No, Martha, security clearances have nothing directly to do with free speech.  But when they are held outside a government job, they are a tool for fattening wallets.

John Brennan has not lost one syllable of his free speech by losing his security clearance.  What he has lost is an inside track with those in the know.  He has also lost a  nice retirement income.  How deserving.

Caricature by Donkey Hotey.